There has been a lot of talk in the news of late regarding personal issues affecting employee’s performance in the workplace, with public figures such as Wayne Rooney allowing the strain of their personal life to affect their performance at work. But how should employers go about dealing with potentially fragile personal issues employees may be facing?

Here, Leanne Greenfield from Peninsula’s Advice Service explores.

The key component when deciding on what action to take with regards to employees’ personal issues would be to sit down and discuss the problem with them. This can help you as a business to discover the extent of the problem and whether or not you accept their dip in performance. In addition, by discussing the issue with the employee it shows that you are there to help, which can be a real motivator for them as it shows that you value them.

The action you take and way in which you deal with the issue depends on the conclusion you come to once you have consulted with the employee.
If it is not a problem which you believe warrants a drop in performance then it is important you outline this to the employee and tell them it is a problem that they should leave at home and not bring into the workplace.

An issue seen as substantial enough may warrant a company offering the affected employee time off in order to help them get over their personal issue. The amount of time off will depend on how the company perceive the problem and how long they believe it will take for an employee to be back to normal. Again, consultation with the employee here can allow both parties to come up with an agreed amount of time off. This time can be paid or unpaid at the discretion of the company.

Another option is to reduce the employee’s workload, or offer them a more ‘watered down’ role within the company until they feel ready to work to their full potential again. The more difficult and stressful a role is, the more difficult it will be for an employee to carry out their job if they have other problems on their mind. By giving an employee a less taxing job it can help reduce their stress levels, whilst keeping them busy at work.

As a business you can also recommend how you believe your employee can deal with their problem externally. Once you have understood the issue they have, you could put them in touch with counsellors or help groups who can assist them with their problem. This can work well as if they are receiving professional advice it can speed up the recovery process meaning that the employee is firing on all cylinders in no time at all. Dependant on the business, you may decide to pay part, or all of the money for the counselling or treatment the employee receives.

If you believe the employee is ready to resume their full responsibilities after allowing them some special dispensation and their performance shows no sign of picking up it is important to outline to the employee that their poor performance will not be tolerated for much longer. If you give an employee some time off or allow them to take a watered down version of their role, they may begin to take liabilities where they believe they can continue to get away with half hearted performances at work. If this is the case it is important for businesses to discipline the employee in question (and go down a performance management route as an employee who is not fulfilling all of the obligations of their contract could end up having their employment terminated). It is a dismissible offence if an employee in not fulfilling all of the obligations outlined in their contracts to their full capability.

It is important for businesses to understand that none of the above are legal obligations when it comes to how to deal with an employee who is allowing a personal issue to affect their performance at work, unless it is backed up with a Fit Note. At the end of the day, it is up to the business itself to decide how they will go about dealing with an underperforming employee. For example, a company who take pride in looking after their employees may decide to give an employee time off in order to get over their personal problems. In contrast however, a smaller company who cannot afford to lose an employees productivity may decide that they cannot accept less than 100% off the employee in question. Both of these are acceptable responses unless there is a Fit Note, which outlines that an employee cannot work.

The decision taken may also be decided by how important the employee is to the organisation. A well respected, high performing employee may be offered the time off to deal with their personal problems in order to keep them motivated and make sure they stay loyal to the company. By the same token however, you may come to the conclusion that you cannot afford to lose the services of one of your top employees, therefore you do not allocate them the time off to recover.

Overall, this is a difficult issue for businesses to deal with so my advice would be to make sure you consult with the employee to find out the extent of the problem and try to come up with a solution that suits both parties.

If you need any advice on how to deal with underperforming employees please contact our advice line on 0844 892 2772.